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Weekly Links #274

16 June 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! The dust is starting to settle over the website, but I'm not quite done yet. Changes are just getting smaller:

  • The two editions of Sunset Flight can now be downloaded from the same place;
  • The game section as a whole was tweaked and reorganized;
  • More content originally published elsewhere was brought over to the wiki.

On a different note, two more games are now on Game Jolt as well: Space Cruiser Orion and the older Escape From Cnossus HD. The trick is picking titles that fit well and have a chance to elicit even a bit of interest; not an easy thing over there.

Plans for the immediate future involve tweaks to a number of games, and bringing back Buzz Grid, that right now only exists online as a handful of articles on the wiki. Got an idea for how to do it right. But it might take a little while, as my personal website also needs work right now.

In the way of news, we have a write-up about advergames, and a few links without comment. Also a reminder that No Time To Play still needs your help. Details below the cut.

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Tags: meta, history, interactive-fiction, rpg

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Weekly Links #271

26 May 2019 — No Time To Play

So the big news this week is that yet another open console has been announced, and as usual techies are excited to no end. I say techies, not the general gameing public, because the public is just going to stick with the Switch, or at most the PS4 if they're loaded. Just the way it went with the Ouya. Remember that one? How much people insisted that no no, see, this one was going to succeed where all others had failed, because... er... um... one of them has to sooner or later?

Needless to say, it didn't, and the only reason I bother to mention it is that the other big news this week was the Ouya store finally closing down for good. Yep, turns out it was still alive, to everyone's genuine surprise. The timing of these two announcements seems too close to be a coincidence. Not that it matters.

What matters is: I love open consoles. I love the idea and very much wish for one to succeed at last. Heck, ten years ago I wrote an incendiary opinion piece explaining why they were the wave of the future.

Do you need a diagram to figure out how far off the mark that prediction was?

This phenomenon puzzled me for the longest time. In retrospect, however, the reason why this keeps happening is obvious: yes, it's the nerds who love the hardware itself. The techies. The tinkerers. Those who just want a shiny new piece of electronics to fool around with and push over the limit. Those to whom the Pi is already old hat.

And we're a minority. Everyone else just wants something to play games on. Which nowadays they can easily do on a smartphone. Why do you think Nintendo has been leery of allowing Pokemon titles on any device not manufactured by them? It's the only thing that keeps the DS going. That, and the traditional loss-leader model of game consoles makes them a good value proposition.

In other words, exactly what open consoles aren't. Hint: custom devices sold in small series, even at cost, are going to be expensive. And manufacturers want to make a profit. They're, you know, businesses. It'd help if an open console became wildly popular, allowing economies of scale to drive down costs.

But then it would just be called a PC.

In the way of news, this week we have:

  • a survey about the Interactive Fiction Competition;
  • thoughts about fictional books players can read inside videogames;
  • my newest teaching project, a shoot'em up in just 200 LOC.

Sadly I have to end with a new request for financial help. See below the cut.

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Tags: interactive-fiction, rpg, worldbuilding

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Weekly Links #265

14 April 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! This week's big news is that I released Keep of the Mad Wizard, after exactly one month of working on it. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It remains to be seen if this will also translate into popularity. In any event, I just had my largest simultaneous release yet, with the game available in four places:

And that's not all, either. I also spent Friday preparing and releasing a second edition of Battles&Balances, the RPG rule system used in the game. It now has a proper magic system and proper support for wizards or other characters with special abilities, such as martial artists, along with other small improvements.

Now to give it cover art at last, and then a short break before the next project.

In the way of news, we have a postmortem of Das Geisterschiff, a game I last mentioned in early January. Not much to say there, it's a very enlightening read overall. Just note the bits about cutting features that don't carry their own weight, and about doing your own thing, not what you imagine a mass audience would like.

Not much else today, I'm afraid. It was one of those weeks. I'll end with this blog post about photorealism in art, which applies just as well to games as it does to animation. No, it's not just nostalgia that drives people to make them with pixel art or low-poly models.

But sure, real-time raytracing is finally here. Ask yourself what happens when even that gets old.

Tags: tabletop, rpg, postmortem, game-design, graphics

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Weekly Links #264

07 April 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! As of right now, Keep of the Mad Wizard is on the home stretch.

(Screenshot of a computer role-playing game showing a character sheet.)

Since last time, I implemented potions, added more content, and figured out what to do for the endgame. Even added a good chunk of it, apart from the ability to solve it with spells. Also a prologue and epilogue, that give the game at least the pretense of a story. The game is coming out shorter and easier than expected, but it's not automatic, and feels balanced enough. It even requires different play styles for the three classes!

And because working on a game is great for inspiration, I wrote yet another article about CRPGs, more exactly scope versus accessibility, for player and developer alike.

In the way of news, we have the long-awaited release of Pygame 1.9.5, Itch.io's new job board, a write-up about licensed games and a retrospective of the King's Quest series. Details after the cut.

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Tags: rpg, game-design, programming, business, classics

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Weekly Links #263

31 March 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! I made considerable progress with the game for the past week.

(Screenshot of a computerized gamebook presenting a combat encounter.)

Among many small changes, the game flow is considerably improved in places, combat now works, and generally most rules are implemented. In fact, only potions are left to add. And of course lots and lots of content, though I've started working on that, too. Only the endgame still needs more thinking. It would be nice to have more than a simple cutscene. Not sure what though.

No less important is the article I wrote about this iteration of the game design, which reopens an avenue of research I thought abandoned. And then there are various refinements and additions that will go into the second edition of Battles&Balances, the magic system in particular.

In the way of news, we have business shenanigans in the game industry, a discussion of colonialism in games, and the Spring Game Jam organized by Open Game Art. Details below the cut.

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Tags: rpg, game-design, business, representation, game-jam

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Weekly Links #262: combating extremism edition

24 March 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! After getting last week's project out of my system, the announced follow-up fizzled out. Instead, another old idea returned with a vengeance. And this time it's coming together amazingly well:

(Screenshot of a digital gamebook presenting an encounter with three choices.)

It's just the latest incarnation of encounter-based game design, a notion I came up with almost two years ago and tried repeatedly to implement, with mixed success. Of course, two years ago I didn't have a suitable RPG rule system, or a good backstory (the high-concept one I was clinging to simply refused to come alive). Now I have all the ingredients, and can't believe how well it's shaping up.

And yes, that's SugarCube 2, though this time I'm using Tweego, not Twine.

In the way of news, this week we have some discussions on why and how to keep extremists out of gaming communities while fostering better representation. On a different note, there's a fascinating case study on procedural generation, and a reminder that No Time To Play needs your help. See below the cut.

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Tags: procedural-generation, representation, rpg, interactive-fiction

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Weekly Links #261: classic MMORPG edition

17 March 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! The big news this week is that I managed to complete a command-line port of Ramus 2:

(Screenshot of a terminal emulator showing a fragment from Roger Firth's Cloak of Darkness.)

Well, for certain values of complete. There are many more features to add. But hey, now you can play games natively on Linux and Windows. Source code is available, too. This lets me better understand the system, paving the way for other future improvements, and frankly it makes the whole thing look a bit more like a serious effort, if not exactly professional.

In related news, I started work on a gamebook using Ramus 2, because what's an interactive fiction authoring system without an original game made with it? No promises as to when it will be done, but the concept is strong and should work out.

Now, on to the week's major events. In mid-march, we have big things coming to Itch.io, EverQuest at 20, and a request for help. Details below the cut, and please read to the end. Thank you!

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Tags: indie, mmo, rpg, roguelike, tabletop, interactive-fiction

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Weekly Links #260

10 March 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! My adventures in teaching continued this week. And, you know...

Back in my day, any programming manual started with a crash course on things like base-2 and boolean math, and computer architecture. Now tutorials start with, "copy-paste this code into a new file". Guess the immediate consequences.

We desperately need to teach kids that game programming is 80% algebra, logic and analytic geometry. And that's a problem for two reasons: one, they've been conditioned to fear those in school, and two, language is a huge barrier.

Sure, about one third of the world's population speaks English these days, for better or worse. But how many of them are comfortable with English? Native speakers are a lot less numerous, and other people may lack the opportunity or inclination to practice much. On the other hand, translating books is a gigantic effort. The official Python tutorial is only available in four languages total, and the rest of the documentation is encyclopedic in size. I'm not sure what to do. Automatic translation doesn't really help. Crowdfunding concerted efforts, maybe?

Anyway, onward to the news.

On Monday, Konstantinos Dimoupoulos shares his Wireframe Magazine article on how to plan horror cities. Not much to say there, this is all excellent advice.

On Tuesday, I finally got around to preparing a download package for Ramus 2. It only took me two years! Since then, I've been slowly working on a command-line runner for the same, that I hope will open up new possibilities.

On Wednesday, things got interesting. Just last week, I was talking about the unfortunate implications of humans-as-default in fantasy roleplaying. Well, look what just crossed my Tumblr dashboard: a discussion of the "common" language trope. And I love the proposed solution. There! Was it hard to make your ISO Standard Fantasy Setting not be a repeat of the British Empire except with elves and dwarves for colonized people?

On Friday Rock, Paper, Shotgun has words about the way space trading games have evolved as the future proved a lot less glamorous than once thought, from the freewheeling optimism of Elite to the disheartening realism of games like the recent (and acclaimed) Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor. A poingnant reminder of how my generation's dreams were shattered, to say the least.

Enjoy this Sunday. While times aren't too bad yet.

Tags: game-design, rpg, programming, philosophy

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Weekly Links #259

03 March 2019 — No Time To Play

This week's editorial is an open letter to people just starting out making games.

Dear beginners,

I'm so happy you want to learn how to make games. Welcome to the club! The more, the merrier. Can't wait to see what you come up with.

So, you picked Python and Pygame as a starter kit. Excellent choices! Python makes programming fun, and Pygame brings all the tools you need right there at your fingertips.

There's just one thing: even with those, you won't be able to make much of a game on your first day. Or your first week. Or your first month. You've embarked on a multi-year journey. If that sounds like too much, sorry. There are no shortcuts.

Oh, it's not a hard journey. You're going to meet cool people, learn useful stuff, tinker with cool toys... Step by step, your dreams will take shape. Just not instantly. Have a little patience. And don't try to cheat, because you'd just be cheating yourself. This is no history test. You're not in school. This is for you.

Do yourself a favor and read the official Python tutorial first. Even if you already know another language. Doubly so if you don't! That stuff is the foundation of everything you're going to build. Make sure you understand it before moving on to the next level. You'll be surprised how many (text-based) games you can make even just with that.

Likewise with Pygame. The official documentation lists some tutorials. At least look through them. Get an idea of what's possible.

Or you can go with books. Many people swear by the Invent with Python series. See if you like them better, it can't hurt to look.

Last but not least, read example games. Make changes. See what happens. Ask questions. You'll find people to help you.

Just PLEASE take the time to do it right. Or else it will seem a lot harder.

Signed: someone who's been doing this for a while.

In the way of news, we have a capsule review of the Basic Fantasy RPG, MobyGames at 20, and more. Details after the cut.

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Tags: tabletop, rpg, review, history

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Weekly Links #257

17 February 2019 — No Time To Play

This week is starting out strong for a change. On Sunday was published an interview with Felipe Pepe of The CRPG Book Project fame (via K.D.). And on Monday we got an article about Sega's Super Scaler technology, that powered so many arcade classics. I've only played OutRun and AfterBurner II out of them, and my favorite 2.5D game isn't among them, but I'm still in love with the style, and even created my own graphics engine to keep it alive.

Also on Monday, an indie creator shares his first year of game development in words and screenshots, and it sounds like an amazing journey. People get up to speed damn fast these days.

A much bigger story emerged as the week went on, extensively covered by numerous sources: that of Activision firing 800 Blizzard employees despite Blizzard making record profits in 2018, just because those profits were a little bit below expectations. Never mind the sheer callousness of the decision, and the way it was handled. Never mind the "I told you so". Right now I'd love to hear from those people who insist that without the big publishers we wouldn't have seen a lot of great games that made history. Tell me, how many more great games we could have seen from Blizzard, and now we never will because their corporate owner is forcing them to focus on milking cash cows instead of, ya'know, continuing to innovate?

Enjoy your capitalism. I'll be over there playing little indie games made with PICO-8.

Speaking of which: just last week I was reviewing a new fantasy console. Soon after, a post on the PICO-8 forum reminded me of this big list on GitHub. And you know... that's kind of cool actually. Making a new fantasy console has turned into a sort of hobby. One I get all too well, having created several authoring systems for interactive fiction that hardly saw any use. But at least each of mine has a unique gimmick I can explain easily. Whereas with most fantasy consoles, there's no obvious reason to use one over the others.

Which, of course, is a valuable insight in itself. Cheers!

Tags: retrogaming, arcade, rpg, interview, business, tools

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Weekly Links #254: game accessibility edition

27 January 2019 — No Time To Play

Hey, everyone. I had little to do this week but throw myself into work, for what little it's worth. And the first thing on my plate was to finally redo the homepages for Adventure Prompt and Ramus 2. Which took some thinking, but came out damn well, and enjoyed a warm reception. Now all that's left is to make download packages for both of them. Got many more ideas, but first the basics. And then there's my latest pet project, that I'm going to announce soon, either later today or else tomorrow. Spoiler: it's yet another scripting language.

In the way of news, this week we have in-depth coverage of the French Interactive Fiction Competition (in English, natch), via fiction-interactive.fr. It's fun to try and spot the unique flavor of the French school in a very well written analysis. In unrelated news, Gamasutra has a collection of quotes on accessibility from 2018. See also the extended news below, but one in particular struck a chord with me:

"If games didn't have subtitles, I wouldn't know English today, so yeah."

Many more are good though, so be sure to skim it.

As for extended commentary, there's a detailed review of Hyper Light Drifter, new regulation regarding accessibility in games, and a now-forgotten Star Wars MMO that once meant something. Details after the cut.

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Tags: indie, game-design, accessibility, mmo, rpg, interactive-fiction

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Weekly Links #252

13 January 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! As gaming news worthy of attention are fashionably late this week, I took the time to write an article about alternate uses for gamedev tools. It concludes my year-long exploration of this particular topic, at least for now. Not that I'll stop working on my own tools, or finding cool new uses for them. The focus will simply be on other things. And hey, that's a good season finale, that foreshadows the next one like it's supposed to.

In the way of news, on Wednesday, PCGamer posts a fascinating insight into how the Infinity Engine was made. And on Thursday we have a couple of game development blog posts worth mentioning:

  • First, a look at the virtual city of Rubacava. For those who can't place it instantly, that's from Grim Fandango, one of the most famous graphical adventures ever made. Not much to say there, Konstantinos Dimopoulos knocks it out of the park as usual. I'll just add that cities are dear to my heart, most of my own fiction (less so my games) taking place in one, and even though I only know Rubacava from the game's novelization, it's still a special place.
  • Then, musings on designing the user interface of a sci-fi business simulator. Note how many examples they took inspiration from, some fictional, others very much real. If only designers of practical software did the same, because Prosperous Universe sounds like a game to watch closely.

Last but not least, Anatoly Shashkin points out that a history of Ocean Software from a few years ago was just released for free on the Internet Archive. Unfortunately all the download options are gigantic. Can't tell you much about files I can't actually open on my computer. But if you have a beefier machine, knowing how 8-bit pioneers did their great work is probably worth the trouble.

Enjoy, and see you next week.

Tags: news, tools, rpg

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Weekly Links #251

06 January 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! As of this writing, No Time To Play has been around for eight years (and a half), and the newsletter for five. Join me as we embark on a new five-year mission to explore strange new ways of using interactivity in art. And look, people already have things to say about it!

Too bad news are thin on the ground, which makes sense given the date. Guess I've been spoiled by previous years. Oh, there are the usual retrospectives, predictions... and scandals. Not so much things worth mentioning. The industry sounds more and more like a broken record, and I don't see the situation improving, on the contrary. Only the indie scene is more vibrant than ever, with Itch.io seeing a surge of new release announcements as of January 1st. While GameJolt, on their part, has stopped sending me updates, even as they made noticeable updates to the site and I got mentioned in a forum thread! (Watch video #3, right after the 13-minute mark.) That's not the only breakage I see, either. Bleh.

In the way of extended news, this issue we have: a game jam in honor of the public domain and a retrospective of real-time, first-person dungeon crawlers; details after the cut.

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Tags: meta, news, game-jam, retrogaming, rpg

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